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Ethics Panels’ Spending Is Below Budget

Spending records indicate the House’s two-tier ethics process spent a combined $3.76 million in 2009, with both investigative bodies reporting spending less than their authorized budgets even as the number of inquiries appears to have significantly increased over the previous Congress.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, popularly known as the ethics committee, has publicly identified 19 Members whose activities it reviewed in 2009. That equals the total number of Members investigated by the panel — only five of whom were publicly identified — in the 110th Congress, according to the panel’s biennial report.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, which began actively investigating Members in 2009, reports that it opened 25 investigations last year.

According to the chamber’s quarterly spending records, the ethics panel spent $2.2 million of its $2.7 million budget in 2009.

Earlier this year, ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) told the House Administration Committee that the panel had obligated an additional $200,000 in funds and therefore expected to spend all but about $300,000 of its budget for the first half of the 111th Congress.

The leftover funds were the result of staff vacancies that have since been filled, Lofgren said. The panel filled nine vacancies in 2009, bringing its total to 24 aides.

The House granted the committee an increase in its budget for the second half of the 111th Congress in February, approving an additional $600,000, primarily for five new aides. In addition to rules violations, the ethics panel is responsible for reviewing travel records and financial disclosure forms, educating Members and aides on ethics rules, and issuing advice.

The committee’s budget for the current cycle totals $6.1 million with the increase.

The OCE, established by House lawmakers in 2008 to review potential ethics violations and refer investigations to the ethics committee, spent $1.56 million in calendar year 2009 according to an analysis of spending records.

Although the Statements of Disbursements — the official spending records of the House — display quarterly and calendar year-to-date spending for each office, the OCE records its expenditures according to fiscal year.

The office reported it spent a little more than $1.3 million in fiscal 2009 and stated in an October report that it had not spent its full budget. Its fiscal 2009 budget total was $1.68 million.

The OCE received about $1.5 million in the fiscal 2010 legislative branch appropriations bill. It reported spending $293,000 in the first months of the 2010 fiscal year.

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